18.2 Trends in hunting and fishing in the NWT

Last Updated: 
September 14, 2015

This indicator tracks changes in the number of people who hunt and fish recreationally or for subsistence in NWT ecozones. This indicator does not track commercial hunting and fishing activities.

There are several classes of hunters in the NWT:

  • Aboriginal Hunters: Under  new legislation1, Aboriginal hunters no longer need a licence to exercise Aboriginal or treaty rights. These hunters do need to carry and show identification proving they have a right to hunt in the particular area they are exercising their Aboriginal or treaty rights. There are very few limits on hunting for Aboriginal hunters. However, there are limits, quotas and seasons in place for some species because of conservation reasons. Aboriginal hunters can get a General Hunting Licence (GHL) to hunt in areas outside where they can exercise their Aboriginal or treaty rights in the rest of the NWT, subject to land claim agreements. These licences are issued for life but not all GHL holders go hunting every year. There are more limits on GHL holders than Aboriginal hunters but these limits are few. Hunters with GHLs also carry out community hunts organized by Aboriginal organizations to provide meat to community residents. Hunting by GHL holders is carried out in all ecozones.
  • Resident Hunters: These hunters are non-Aboriginal hunters who have lived in the NWT for at least one year and hold a Resident Hunting Licence in the NWT. This type of hunting is carried out in all ecozones.
  • Outfitted Sport Hunters: These hunters are either Canadians who living outside the NWT or hunters from other countries, who have obtained a Non-resident Hunting Licence. This type of hunting is permitted in the Southern Arctic and Taiga Cordillera.

Anglers in the NWT are classified into three categories:

  • Aboriginal Anglers: Aboriginal people who fish for subsistence and local use purposes and do not sell fish. These anglers do not need a permit to fish in the NWT.
  • Resident Anglers: non-Aboriginal NWT residents who, in a given year, hold a permit to fish in the NWT.
  • Non-resident Anglers: people from outside the NWT who, in a given year, hold a permit to fish in the NWT.

Fishing is permitted in all NWT’s ecozones. However some lakes or zones are closed or restricted for a period each year.

Information for this indicator is obtained from the GNWT licensing system, the Outfitter report forms and the NWT Labour Surveys7.

NWT Focus

Hunting and fishing in the NWT have very important cultural, social and economical values. These activities are part of northern and Aboriginal cultures and help connect people to the environment. Hunting and fishing provide high quality food, which is linked to better human health in northern societies including in the NWT8. Reporting on hunting and fishing in the NWT helps track changes in an important stewardship activity that links the environment to the health, well-being and culture of NWT residents.

Current status and trend

Hunting or Fishing

According to NWT Labour Force Surveys, about 40% of NWT people go either hunting or fishing on average (based on data from 1998, 2003, 2008, and 2013). This has changed little since the first survey in 1983. Note apparent changes in non-native participation since 1998 are the result of a modification in the language used to describe these activities and includes “recreational” reasons for hunting or fishing.

Percent of NWT persons who have hunted or fished for subsistence, and recreationallyd, during a survey year, per ethnic group
  Subsistence only Subsistence and recreational (d)
Survey Year 1983a 1988b 1993c Averagee 1998  2003 2008 201 Average
Inuvialuit 47% 50%  45%  47% 58%  56%  58%    57%
Dene/Métis* 28% 28%  31%  29% 42%  44%  43%    43%
Non-Aboriginal 3% 2%**  7%**  4% 36%  30%  34%    33%
NWT  20%  21%  23%  21% 43%  37%  39%    40%
  • a - 1984 NWT Labour Force Survey, as reported in Usher and Wenzel 1989.
  • b -1989 NWT Labour Force Survey, Report 3, Table 2.7.
  • c - 1994 NWT Labour Survey.
  • d - Question was broadened to include recreational hunting and fishing. 1999 NWT Labour Survey. 2004 NWT Labour Survey. 2009 NWT Labour Survey. 2013 NWT Labour Survey.
  • e - Excludes 1999 data.
  • * Estimates include Dene, Métis, and any other Native persons except Inuvialuit.
  • ** Estimated as total non-Native persons who hunted/fished divided by total persons interviewed in Fort Smith and Inuvik regions (1989 NWT Labour Force Survey, Report 3, Table 2.1; 1994 Labour Force Survey, data accessed 2002, Labour Market Analyst, pers. comm.); Estimates did not include Holman.

Aboriginal Subsistence Hunting

In 2008, about 9,000 people had a General Hunting License2Most (64%) GHL holders resided in the large Taiga Plains ecozone. The proportion of GHL holders who go hunting in any given year and the trend in hunting by GHL holders are unknown. With the new Wildlife Act, Aboriginal hunters no longer need a licence to exercise Aboriginal or treaty rights. This indicator will not be updated in the future.

Resident Hunters

The number of resident hunters declined by about 3% per year from 1990 to 2004, and has stabilized at about 1,200-1,300 hunters annually in recent years2.

NWT Resident Hunters

Resident and Non-resident Anglers

The number of non-Aboriginal residents who purchase an angling licence each year has remained relatively stable since 2000 (average 5,000-6,000 per year). The number of fishing licence issued to non-residents (Canadians or foreign visitors) declined slightly in the last decade2.

Number of fishing licences sold

Looking forward

In the past, most hunters were Aboriginal people harvesting food for subsistence. This is still the case in the NWT. The number of resident hunters and non-resident outfitted hunting have declined since the early 1990s. Reasons for declines in resident hunting and declines in non-resident outfitted hunting is directly linked to declines in caribou herds across the NWT (See Focal Point WILDLIFE).

Fishing remains an important activity for NWT people, both for subsistence and for recreation. Declines in the number of anglers visiting the NWT likely reflect broader trends in tourism.

Looking around

According to the Canadian Nature Survey5, about 8% of adult Canadians go hunting, less than 1% go trapping and 21% go fishing at least once during a year (study year 2012). Hunting and fishing participation in the NWT is slightly higher than the Canadian average. In the same study, NWT residents reported that 21% go hunting and 43% go fishing at least once in a year.

Hunting and fishing activities have declined in other jurisdictions3,4. Studies have proposed that the major causes of these declines include increased urbanization, an aging population and increased cost of travel and permitting. In the Canadian Nature Survey, when asked why they did not go hunting or trapping, Canadians mentioned  they did not like the activity or they lack time or knowledge of it5.

Find out more

  • Additional information can be obtained from hunting surveys conducted by the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board and the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board as part of their work on Aboriginal subsistence hunting needs under land claim settlement agreements.
  • Commercial hunting and fishing is not included in this indicator. Commercial hunting is carried out by holders of a special Commercial Hunting License to obtain meat for selling to markets in the NWT and elsewhere in Canada. This type of hunting occurs only on Banks Island for muskoxen, and has been permitted for other species in the past, but very sporadically. More information on commercial hunting can be obtained from ENR. Commercial fishing is managed in the NWT by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and has been permitted on Great Slave Lake and in the lower Mackenzie at a lesser scale. Commercial fishing in the Canadian portion of the Beaufort Sea is banned under an agreement between the Inuvialuit and Fisheries and Oceans Canada signed on 15 April 2011. More information on commercial fishing indicators can be obtained from the Mackenzie Basin State of the Aquatic Environment report6.


Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca.


Ref. 1 - NWT Wildlife Act.

Ref. 2 - Government of the NWT. Current LISIN database. Accessed April 2015.

Ref. 3 - Boxall, P.C., D.O. Watson, and B.L. McFarlane. 2001. Some Aspects of the Anatomy of Alberta's Hunting Decline: 1990-1997. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 6:97-113.

Ref. 4 - CTC Research and Evaluation. 2012. Sport Fishing and Game Hunting in Canada - An Assessment on the Potential International Tourism Opportunity. Canadian Tourism Commission. Ottawa, ON. 29pp.

Ref. 5 - Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Governments of Canada. 2014. The 2012 Canadian Nature Survey: Awareness, Participation, and Expenditures in Nature-based Recreation, Conservation, and Subsistence Activities. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers.

Ref. 6 - MRRB. 2003. Mackenzie River Basin State of Aquatic Ecosystem Report. 208pp.

Ref. 7 - NWT Bureau of Statistics. Current. NWT Labour Force Surveys.

Ref. 8 - Receveur, O., M. Boulay, and H. Kuhnlein. 1997. Decreasing Traditional Food Use Affects Diet Quality for Adult Dene/Metis in Communities of the Canadian Northwest Territories. J. Nutri. 127:2179-2186